Dr. Thomas Szasz
Professor Thomas Szasz, iconic champion for liberty, pioneer in the fight against coercive psychiatry and co-founder of Citizens Commission on Human Rights, has passed away at the age of 92. Considered by many scholars and academics to be psychiatry’s most authoritative critic, Dr. Szasz authored hundreds of articles and more than 35 books on the subject, the first being The Myth of Mental Illness, a book which rocked the very foundations of psychiatry when published more than 50 years ago. Szasz was Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus at the State University of New York, Adjunct Scholar at the Cato Institute, Lifetime Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, Fellow of the International Academy of Forensic Psychology, whose life long list of educational accomplishments, credentials, honors, biographical listings and awards speak for themselves.
To the world, he was the foremost critic on psychiatry and its abusive practices, a brilliant debater and orator. To those who had the privilege of working alongside him, he was witty, charming, charismatic and fearless. But above all else, he was a defender of personal liberty. As Professor Richard E. Vatz of Towson University stated, “Thomas S. Szasz has steadfastly defended the values of humanism and personal autonomy against all who would constrain human freedom with shackles formed out of conceptual confusion, error, and willful deception.”
Szasz had long criticized the use of psychiatry as a means of social and political control stating, “Although we may not know it, we have, in our day, witnessed the birth of the Therapeutic State. This is perhaps the major implication of psychiatry as an institution of social control. When I use the term therapeutic state, I use it ironically, it’s therapeutic for the people who are doing the locking up, who are doing the therapy, it’s not therapeutic for the victims, for the patients.”
Dr. Szasz’s alliance with CCHR was formed out of this fundamental philosophy. He didn’t just write and speak about the use of coercive psychiatry, he personally represented the victims of it. In 1969 as a forming member of CCHR, he spoke on behalf of a Hungarian refugee, Victor Gyory, who had been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution, stripped naked, held in isolation against his will, and forced to undergo electroshock. Szasz established that it was solely due to Gyory’s inability to speak English that had resulted in psychiatrists labeling him schizophrenic. Szasz’s testimony led to the hospital director discharging Gyory, a precedent-setting victory against involuntary commitment and coercive psychiatry.
Of his alliance with CCHR, Szasz stated, “They were then the only organization, and they still are the only organization, who were active in trying to free mental patients who were incarcerated in mental hospitals with whom there was nothing wrong, who had committed no crimes, who wanted to get out of the hospital. And that to me was a very worthwhile cause; it’s still a very worthwhile cause. We should honor CCHR because it is really the organization that for the first time in human history has organized a politically, socially, internationally significant voice to combat psychiatry. This has never happened in human history before.”
It has been an honor and a privilege to work alongside Thomas Szasz the past 43 years. We shall continue his legacy of fighting against abusive and coercive psychiatric practices until personal liberty and human rights in the field of mental health are established for all.
To find out more about this champion of human rights and personal liberty, visit CCHR’s Dr. Thomas Szasz section of this website
What Others Have Said About Dr. Thomas Szasz
- “Dr. Szasz makes a real contribution by alerting us to the abuses—existing and potential—of human rights inherent in enlightened mental health programs and procedures. He points out, with telling examples, shortcomings in commitment procedures, inadequacies in the protections afforded patients in mental institutions and the dangers of over-reliance on psychiatric expert opinion by judges and juries.” — Arthur J. Goldberg, Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
- “It is no exaggeration to state that Szasz’s work raises major social issues which deserve the attention of policy-makers and indeed of all informed and socially conscious Americans…. Quite probably he has done more than any other man to alert the American public to the potential dangers of an excessively psychiatrized society.” — Edwin M. Schur, The Atlantic
- “No one attacks loose-thinking and folly with half the precision and zest of Thomas Szasz.” — John Leo, social science editor for U.S. News & World Report
- “Szasz is a brilliant debater…. He can turn a topic as somber as insanity and its social context into a book that is extraordinarily entertaining.”— The New York Times Book Review
- “Stripping away centuries of self-serving propaganda written by psychiatry’s acolytes, Dr. Thomas Szasz gives us a radically new look at the history of the world’s most dangerous political religions. From the eighteenth century’s ‘trade in lunacy’ to the nineteenth century’s ‘insane asylums’ to the twentieth century’s ‘snake pits’ to the twenty-first century’s ‘outpatient commitment,’ Szasz gives us a radically different perspective on the major episodes in the history of psychiatry.” — Keith Hoeller, editor of Review of Existential Psychology & Psychiatry
- “Bit by ‘barbarous and bizarre’ bit, Thomas Szasz dismantles psychiatry’s rickety scaffolding, exposing over two centuries of physical torture and tortured logic. Professor Szasz takes the necessary analytical and empirical solvents to this state-empowered fraternity of sorcerers. He also supplies the only salve for the psychiatric violence he correctly dubs ‘psychiatric slavery’: abolition: Now, ‘Let the sunshine in.’” — Ilana Mercer, libertarian columnist and writer, WorldNetDaily.com
- “Throughout his distinguished career…Thomas S. Szasz has steadfastly defended the values of humanism and personal autonomy against all who would constrain human freedom with shackles formed out of conceptual confusion, error, and willful deception.” — Dr. Richard E. Vatz, Professor, Towson State University, and Lee S. Weinberg, Professor of Legal Studies, University of Pittsburgh
- “Tom Szasz is one of the most compassionate and loving persons I have ever known, and I have known and know many great and good people in my life. I say this because many people have been so critical of him throughout his professional career. That is the price he must pay for the work he has done. It takes a brave person to withstand such criticism…. Here is a man who has demonstrated uncompromising commitment to family, honesty, truth, and liberty throughout his life.” — Jeffrey A. Schaler, Department of Justice, Law and Society American University School of Public Affairs
- “Thomas Szasz remains unique among contemporary observers of the social, ethical, and political implications of psychiatry: every argument he makes, and each word he chooses, are deserving of our closest attention.” — Paul Roazen, author of Encountering Freud
- “Thomas Szasz…has been one of the few writers who have helped keep me sane in this insane business.”— Dr. David Stein, Professor of Psychology and Criminal Justice, Virginia State University
- “Szasz helps people recognize how many issues portrayed solely as questions of mental health are actually questions of liberty. He has helped open the eyes of generations of Americans to the fact that merely wearing a white coat doesn’t make a person trustworthy enough to shackle other people.”— James Bovard, best-selling author and lecturer
- “For decades, Thomas Szasz has publicly challenged the excesses that obscure reason. The Medicalization of Everyday Life offers a no-nonsense perspective on prevailing dogma. It is only through clear vision that intelligent choices can be made. Required reading for all professionals in health care fields, and all those who are subject to their unwitting prejudices.” — Jeffrey K. Zeig, Ph.D., Director, The Milton Erickson Foundation
- “Every defender of the therapeutic state should be strapped down and made to answer the questions Dr. Szasz poses about the psychiatric industry’s mission creep.” — Mike Hume, columnist, The London Times
- “Thomas Szasz is the preeminent critic of psychiatry in the world.” — Dr. Richard E. Vatz, Professor, Towson State University